If you build it, they will come. That phrase largely has rang true in Warrick County, where the revitalization of its three main parks has led an increase in the area’s population and a boost to economic development.
Two of Warrick County’s parks — Friedman Park and Scales Lake Park — have undergone significant renovations in recent years, and the third — Vann Road Park — will see new amenities in the coming years.
The revitalization of the county parks, says Parks Board President Daniel Roach, was an effort to increase economic development of the area and improve quality of life — efforts he says have succeeded.
“I think (Friedman Park) was a catalyst for a lot of the development down here,” says Roach. “Who doesn’t want to live next to a park?”
The county’s newest green space, Friedman Park has seen the largest transformation. Starting as just a small trailhead across from Victoria National Golf Course, the former owners of the course, Victoria Partners Team, approached the Warrick County Department of Parks and Recreation with the idea of turning the land, which was once coal-mined ground, into a park, realizing the benefit a nearby public park would bring to the area.
Friedman Park, named after the developer and original owner of Victoria National Terry Friedman, was opened to the public in May 2017. The 180-acre, multi-million-dollar park includes two open pavilions, a playground, amphitheater, large open areas, and more than five miles of paved walking and biking trails.
In an effort to save one of Warrick County’s historical bridges and add to the aesthetic value of the park, the Myers Road Bridge, which crosses over Caney Creek in the eastern part of the county, will be brought in to extend the nature trails on the east end of the park, which is currently inaccessible because of water.
In 2020, construction was completed on a 16,000-square-foot, $4.7 million event center located on the east side of the park. $2 million of funding for the event center came from state funding through Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative, which works to help communities across Indiana come together to transform their regions into nationally-recognized destinations. The Friedman Park Event Center is host to weddings, conferences, conventions, board retreats, and community events and will also serve as an annex office for the Warrick County Sheriff’s Department.
“After COVID hit and all the restrictions released in April, we booked wedding for three weeks in a row,” says Emily Ruebl, director of the Friedman Park Events Center. “We are almost completely booked up for 2022.”
The park is also home to various wildlife such as deer, an osprey, quail, and bobcats.
“I first saw signs of (bobcats) in 2017, so we’ve known for a while,” says Joe Schitter, manager at Friedman Park. “She comes out and people see her. It’s great, but she keeps her distance.”
Past the park’s west shelter is Pippero Pup Park, a fenced-in dog park that was scheduled to officially open at the end of November as of press time Nov. 17. The one-acre park includes areas for large and small dogs along with a wash station and pet drinking fountain. Schitter says a dog park has been the number one request by area residents and visitors since Friedman Park was built.
In the more than four years since the park was completed, the area has also seen hundreds of single-family residences built by Jagoe Homes in the adjacent Berkshire neighborhood, with plans for another neighborhood to be developed in the future. Roach says about 900 homes are either built, under construction, or planned for the area.
Warrick County itself saw a population increase of about 6.5 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the latest census data.
“This whole area is exploding in terms of population,” says Roach. “Someone said to me that it’s like they took the town of Chandler and plopped it down right here, and we just so happen to have a park built right before all that was going in.”
“As a matter of fact, almost everyone I’ve talked to that lives around here say they moved here because of the park,” adds Schitter.
Roach says the Parks Department partnered with Warrick County Economic Development when constructing the park, with the goal of improving the quality of life in a growing area of southern Indiana.
“You want the biggest names in medicine and you want the best corporate executives, so you’ve got to have a good place for them to live,” says Roach. “That’s the whole name of the game out here is quality of life.”
Outside Boonville, Indiana — itself less than 10 miles from Friedman Park — is Scales Lake, a park with 400 acres of woods and a 66-acre lake. The park’s amenities offer an array of outdoor activities, including camping, boating, fishing, kayaking, hiking, and swimming. Also onsite is a petting zoo with pigs, goats, and various types of ducks.
Known for its acres of tent camping, the camping sites and four rental cabins were upgraded in 2019 with the installation of electrical and sewer services. Beginner, intermediate, and difficult mountain bike trails were constructed on the edge of the park in the early 1990s, attracting bike clubs and thrill-seekers alike to the park.
“We’ve had some mountain bikers tell us it is the best place to mountain bike in Southern Indiana,” Roach says. “We’ve got a couple of groups of volunteers that actually put in trails and learner’s courses and all kinds of bridges and neat staff, and they work on the trails and they’re just passionate about it.”
Warrick County’s third park, Vann Road Park, is home to the Newburgh Junior Baseball and Newburgh Girls Softball leagues and features six fields for both sports. Located a mile south of Friedman Park, it’s also home to a shelter, picnic area, bike racks, fishing in a nearby pond, and a paved trail surrounding the five-acre pond.
After being approached by a group called Rivertown Pickleball, the Warrick Parks Department is also looking to add pickleball courts to Vann Road Park and increase space for what is becoming a fast-growing sport in the U.S.
“They were eyeballing Vann Road Park and there’s a section up on top that’s available to develop,” Roach says. “We’re now working with them to get some pickleball courts installed. We’re going to work with them, and they’re going to have leagues and tournaments and all kinds of stuff.”